Yokohama – Yusuke Minagawa and Tsukasa Shiotani scored either side of halftime as J. League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima beat New Zealand part-timers Auckland City 2-0 on Thursday to kick off the Club World Cup.
Sanfrecce, who captured their third J. League title in four years last weekend, took an early lead at Nissan Stadium when little-used striker Minagawa pounced on a rebound in the ninth minute.
Defender Shiotani then doubled Sanfrecce’s lead midway through the second half to set up a quarterfinal meeting with African champions TP Mazembe of DR Congo in Osaka on Sunday, with the winner taking on Argentine giants River Plate three days later in the same stadium.
“Physically and also in terms of how we would take care of the ball, we expected the match to be very tough,” said Sanfrecce manager Hajime Moriyasu. “We knew that Auckland would have a lot of possession, and we knew that we would have to defend well and use the ball well.
“We scored at a very good time in the first half. Unfortunately we had to use all of our substitutes because of injuries, but we kept our composure, didn’t concede and got the second goal.”
Sanfrecce emerged from the game with significant collateral damage, after Gakuto Notsuda, Kosei Shibasaki and Kohei Shimizu all suffered injuries that are likely to rule them out of Sunday’s match.
“We wanted to be more offensive, but we had to use all three substitutes because of injuries,” said Moriyasu. “Although we were leading, we still weren’t able to threaten. That’s something to reflect on.”
Sanfrecce wasted little time in establishing a foothold as Minagawa fired them into the lead. Notsuda took the ball from a short corner and uncorked a low shot that Auckland goalkeeper Jacob Spoonley could not hold, and Minagawa was just one of several Sanfrecce players waiting to ram home the rebound.
Sanfrecce were content to allow Auckland the ball and wait for the counterattack, but Minagawa — who made just five J. League appearances all season — failed to capitalize on several first-half chances.
Shibasaki — who had himself come on for the injured Notsuda early in the first half — departed on a stretcher in the 53rd minute, but replacement Douglas almost had an instant impact when he sliced through the Auckland defense.
Shiotani eventually found the target in the 70th minute, however, picking up the ball on the right and letting off a shot from a tight angle that somehow slipped under Spoonley’s body and into the net.
“It was a cross,” admitted Shiotani. “I knew there was a chance it could hit someone and go in. But it was lucky.”
Sanfrecce will be looking to reach the semifinals for the first time against Mazembe, having lost to Egyptians Al-Ahly in the quarterfinals in 2012 in their only previous appearance at the tournament.
Mazembe — which reached the final in 2010 — will likely pose a bigger threat than Auckland, which finished a surprise third at the tournament last year but posed little serious danger to Moriyasu’s side.
“I think we probably lacked a little but of penetration in the last third,” said Auckland manager Ramon Tribulietx. “We knew that Hiroshima were going to try to hurt us on the counter. Unfortunately for us, we conceded an early goal and that made the game a little bit harder for us.
“We had 67 percent of possession but that doesn’t win games. But coming from New Zealand, we have to be proud of achieving something like that. We have proved to the world that we are from New Zealand but we can keep the ball. This is a learning experience for us.”
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